Many times, you find yourself as the trustee of a trust and aren’t sure what the job entails. Your family member read a book, blog or heard a podacst that recommended that everyone needs a trust. The common advice they heard is that the creator of the trust should chose a family member to serve as the successor trustee. This means that when the grantor dies, the successor is now in charge of the trust. But when your family member set up the trust, you probably weren’t very involved in the process. Maybe they called you? More likely they shot you an email. In some cases, it may have just been a quick text. But even though your family member looked at it as a simple thing, being a trustee can be a very complex duty. You are tasked with stepping into the shoes of the trustee. Now it’s your job to administer the trust.
What Should You Do First?
As with many things in life, the first step is: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS. People often take this step for granted. But if you are appointed as a trustee, the first place to start is to read the trust. You need to understand what the trust says. Who are the beneficiaries? What are the terms of the trust? Do you have certain obligations that have a time element?
Because trusts are often drafted by attorneys (I’ll hope that it wasn’t just a form downloaded from the internet, which brings a whole host of other issues…), it may be in your best interest to meet with an attorney. They can review the trust with you. You can get answers as to what some of those complex legal terms mean. And oftentimes under the trust, you have the right to hire an attorney to help you. The trust can be the one to pay for the attorney.
I’ve Read the Trust, Now What?
Now that you know what to do, it’s a good time to communicate with the beneficiaries of the trust. They should receive a copy of the trust. Even if you think they’ve seen it before, it’s a good idea to send them another copy. When you start doing your trustee work, you should also create a system to make sure they are getting updates about the trust assets and what’s happening with them.
As part of this process, you should also take an inventory of the assets of the trust. If the grantor has recently died, then the trust may be receiving a variety of assets through the administration of their estate. There may be life insurance proceeds or other assets that are now the property of the trust. So getting a full inventory is vital to make sure you are properly doing your job as trustee.
If you didn’t hire one before, this is also a good time to consider hiring an attorney. There can be a lot of responsibilities upon you as the trustee and an attorney can be an invaluable resource to help you.
Another lesson you may learn is whether you need a trust for yourself. After serving as the trustee for someone else, you’ll be in a unique position to see what it takes to be a trustee. And you may find that the complexities and obligations outweigh the advantages that you would receive from creating a trust.